Thursday, January 31, 2013

January in Instagram

 This month was so busy, I can't even believe that it started out in Kansas with snow and stomach flu.

Our friend Maria came to stay with us for a week.  She lived here for two years so we took her to all her old hang outs and showed her the new Riverwalk extension.

The day Maria left, Jason and Abby came to stay.  Abby was here because we organized a conference, but they stayed through the weekend to hang out.  We had lots of tacos and, of course, visited a mission (we did the Alamo last year).

These flowers were an unexpected thank you gift.

Hank loves to sit up in her cat town and look down on us.

For Christmas, I got the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and only made it to the first page before I decided I HAD to have the apple-sour cream pancakes.

I also got the Super Natural Everyday cookbook and made this rice salad featuring forbidden rice.  Somehow I thought it would be hard to get - turns out you can get it in the bulk bin for $4 a pound.

Scrabble Night!!!! (That's Geoff's game face)

Celebrated Kansas Day on the 29th with this gorgeous quilled necklace my mom made.

Finally got the last 7 years worth of photos (since I bought a digital camera) printed and in albums!

Whew!  Quite a month.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Actually, it's not.  It was 80 degrees in San Antonio today.  But imagine if you lived in say, Fargo, North Dakota. You'd be pretty cold right now and longing for a hearty braise like this one.  Minnesota and North Dakota are both home to a large number of German immigrants and this recipe is an ode to them and the easy meals you need if you are a pregnant chief of police with ruthless murderers to track down.  Bone in pork chops get a quick sear before being braised in hard apple cider with onions, cabbage, and apples.  The sweetness is cut with a heaping tablespoon of mustard and some fresh scallions.  I served it over spaetzel (which I highly recommend), but if you are in a hurry, or drank the other five hard ciders while the pork chops braised, it would be great with a hunk of bread or some roasted potatoes.

I've seen a number of Coen brothers' movies, but never Fargo which is widely regarded as their best film.  The plot is a bit bizarre but it is all of the details that make it great.  The pacing, the characters breaking through the crust of the snow as they try and traverse the landscape, the creepy Paul Bunyan statue, the juxtoposition of those who are content and those who are trying to live beyond their means.  I always enjoy William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, but this movie reminded me how much I like Frances McDormand who is quietly brilliant in this movie.  I may go ahead and become a Coen brothers' completist.

Braised Pork Chops with Cabbage and Apples
serves 4

4 bone in pork chops (about 3/4 - 1 inch thick)
1 onion, sliced
1 large apple, sliced
1/2 head green cabbage
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
12 oz. hard cider (I used Harpoon)
1 heaping tbsp. grainy mustard
1/4 c. scallions, sliced on the bias
1 tbsp cornstarch, optional
2 tbsp water, optional

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil until shimmering, salt pork chops and sear until browned on both sides, but not cooked through.
2. Set pork chops aside and add another tablespoon of oil if needed (my pork chops were very lean) and reduce heat to medium.  Cook onions until medium brown.
3.  Add cabbage and apple and cook until slightly wilted.  A deep fond will have developed in the pan.
4. Turn heat up to high and add half the cider, stirring vigorously to deglaze the pan.  Add remaining cider.
5. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low.  Add pork chops back in, partially submerging.
6.  Cover and cook 60-90 minutes.
7.  When pork chops finish cooking, remove gently and stir in in mustard.  If the sauce is too thin, you can thicken with a slurry of cornstarch and water.
8.  Serve topped with scallions.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hey Yooooou Guuuys!

Okay, confession time.  Goonies is one of those movies I've been pretending to have seen for years.  It's iconic to my generation and Geoff holds that it is the greatest children's movie of all time so I've been nodding along, "Oh, yeah....uh huh, yeah, it's been a while since I've watched it..."  Settled in with Geoff and Veronica (another Goonies fan), I was prepared to be underwhelmed.  Kids' movies so often don't hold up - but this one totally did!  It's the quintessential kids' wish fulfillment movie with some rad 80s clothes and surprisingly funny jokes.  Also, Josh Brolin.

If you have never watched Goonies or haven't seen it in years, check it out. And while you are at it, I recommend a dinner of grape soda and Hamburger Helper. If you prefer your dinner in non-box form, we really enjoyed Budget Bytes' Chili Cheese Beef and Mac.  The sharp cheddar cheese and kick of chili powder make this a more grown up version, but elbow macaroni will forever bring out the kid in you.  Or maybe the Sloth.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Weening off of Christmas

Once the presents are unwrapped and dinner is eaten, someone in my family always comments, "Nothing is over like Christmas."  And it's true.  Soon, we must put away the Christmas tree, the lights, and all the other decorations for 11 months, but there is no reason you have to deprive yourself entirely.  Once my sparkly ornament wreath came down, my door looked a bit sad.  A quick trip to the craft store for a cheap grapevine wreath and clearance white poinsettias, plus a quick spray with some silver spray paint I had sitting around, and I had the perfect winter wreath for bringing some shine to gray skies.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lonely Man's Dinner

TV dinners and those divided plastic trays full of cafeteria food both exist in my mind largely in the black and white of Patty Duke and Dobie Gillis reruns.  Salsbury steak, in particular, is known to me only as a punch line in the realm of fake high schools.  But this Salsbury steak, given full TV dinner treatment by the Pioneer Woman, looked so good smothered in a thick layer of onions that I had to make it.  If you are looking for a lighter meal to fit your New Year's resolutions, I substituted ground turkey for the beef and I think bison might be even tastier if you can get it.  I might have overdone it on the onions, ending up with about a 2:1 onion to meat ratio, but they were so sweet neither of us minded.  Sweet peas in browned butter and smashed roasted potatoes finished out our (undivided, ceramic) plates.

And who needs a TV dinner more than a house-bound man in the 50s?  A man who spends his days, perhaps, watching his neighbors out his Rear Window?  I've been avoiding Alfred Hitchcock movies for a long time. Mostly because I'm a well-known scaredy cat and also because my mother was traumatized by The Birds (seriously, she still gets freaked out by the presence of more than about three birds).  I really enjoyed Rear Window and I was surprised to be surprised at the ending since it is more than 50 years old.  While Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly were both good, my favorite character was the nurse played by Thelma Ritter who was also fantastic in All About Eve.

Flush from not being scared by Hitchcock, I watched Strangers on a Train (good, not amazing) and my mom and I watched the new Hitchcock biopic between Christmas and New Years (truly excellent).  So now I'm ready for some more - what next?  Vertigo?  North by Northwest?  Or should I jump straight to Psycho and The Birds?

p.s. My memories of the few TV dinners I had as a child always included a really gross microwave brownie.  However, I have recently discovered this actually quite good version of a peanut butter chocolate cake from Budget Bytes.  You're welcome.  Also, I'm sorry.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wishing you a (Retroactively) Merry Christmas!

I hope those of you celebrating had a wonderful Christmas.  We were in Kansas with my family.  These are our stockings on Christmas morning - the stockings were made by my Grandma and mom and the quilted fireplace screen was just made by my mom this year. En route, we stopped in Oklahoma to catch up with my aunt and cousins.  We dropped off some homemade gingerbread play dough (made from Sugarbelle's recipe) for my cousins' sons.  It smells exactly as good as you imagine and comes together in no time.

We made it to Kansas ahead of the snow and did all sorts of wonderful Christmas things like playing Trivial Pursuit, making Rice Krispie treat ornaments, and having dinner on the Plaza with my mom's sister's family before we were all stricken with the stomach flu.

But let's back up, the Christmas season started off way back in November when we attended the annual lighting of all of the trees on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word.  Every tree on campus is outlined in multicolored lights that twinkle all season.  It's gorgeous.

When I was complaining of a lack of Christmas spirit, my friend Katy took me down to the Riverwalk where we sat outside and drank prickly pear margaritas.  Totally getting into the idea of a relatively warm Christmas!  The Riverwalk Christmas lights are fantastic, like a fairy land (and that's not just the tequila talking).

In the Christmas spirit, I began to plan a special treat for my mom.  She loves stollen, but my dad hates the fluorescent candied fruit that so often fills it.  Instead, I soaked dried apricots and cranberries in a combination of whiskey and cider for a week before taking the fruit to Kansas with us.  I baked up the stollen recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice with a (too thick) layer of almond paste in the middle.  It was good fresh, but I liked it best toasted with butter and I found the more muted fruit to be festive (and less frightening).

Giving handmade gifts is one of my favorite aspects of Christmas and this year was no exception.  I was particularly busy at work these last few months so some got finished once I was already in Kansas, but they were no less welcome.  Here are few of my favorites:

For my mom, a pair of Cozy Toes socks knit from yarn she picked out while we were in Portland.  She knew they were coming but had no idea what they would look like.  (In fact, due to some facebook complaining about my lack of time, she thought they were coming unfinished.)

Mom also got a new cover for her sewing machine (which I made good use of in finishing up this and other presents) based on an applique from Ellison Lane Quilts.

For dad, I made a custom-etched casserole dish that no one will ever walk away with from a potluck. Etching glass is so easy and  can be done with etching cream that you can pick up at any craft store.  It elevates inexpensive glassware into a cherished gift and I think it would be a great way to personalize bakeware that might be on a wedding registry. I also made a casserole carrier to tote it around based on this Sew4Home pattern.  Somehow I neglected to take a picture of that part.

By far my favorite gift this year was this lovable guy.  He's based on Otto the Lovable Monster with some liberal modifications.  I made him for a very special two month old and wanted him to match the That's Not my Monster board book by Fiona Watt.  I love these touchy-feely books that all follow the same format ("That's no my monster, his ears are too scratchy") until the final page ("That's my monster, his ears are so fluffy.").  So I made his to match the final monster.  I think I did a pretty good job.  You may recognize this present idea from this dragon and the orangutan up in my header.  I'm sure it will come up again because there are about twenty more books I haven't made a knit version of yet!

The holidays - even, and maybe especially being sick - gave me time to slow down, appreciate being surrounded by people I love, and rejuvenate me for the excitement and business of 2013.  I hope you are looking forward to this new year too!

Friday, January 4, 2013

December in Instagram

This dapper Humpty Dumpty (made from ikat bag's pattern) was a first birthday gift.  The birthday girl is very good at tearing him apart, but hasn't quite mastered putting Humpty back together again.

The ladies came over for a Christmas card making party, but we couldn't stay up too late since the next morning was...

...the Color Me Rad 5K!  As we ran, we had dye thrown and sprayed at us in rainbow colors.  So much fun!

My undergrad adviser Dr. Crawford came down for a visit.

Hank is a thief.

My crochet mini-Christmas tree has its own marching band.

Acai berry facials complements of our totally rad friend and talented aesthetician, Stephanie.

Our annual Christmas ornament!

Our new wreath barely fits on the door!  Guess measuring would have been wise.

Getting in the Christmas spirit on the Riverwalk.

Adorable custom crafter and musician ornaments from Geoff's fam.

A merry Christmas morning!
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